PUBLISHED: 06:49 13 October 2014
Thanks to the Norfolk Independent Visitors Service many of our children in care now have an adult to turn to in good times and bad – someone who can offer guidance, support and the sort of fun days out and activities that most young people take for granted.
Now the organisation is looking for more volunteers to become “independent visitors” to help change the lives of the 1139 “looked after” children in Norfolk who have little or no contact with their own families.
Service co-ordinator Stephanie Walsingham says: “We receive referrals from Children’s Services to work with children who have been removed from the care of their birth family. Although they are in stable places where they are cared for and have a lot of adults around them, they are often professionals and we found they lacked someone to turn to outside of that setting.
“An ‘independent visitor’ is matched with a child and spends at least one day a month with them, whether it is taking them for a day out, teaching them to cook, taking them to a weekly sports club or simply having a cup of coffee and a chat. It is also important to keep up contact via phone in between, whether it is to wish them luck for a sports day or exam, or maybe sending them a postcard if you go on holiday. They are simple things but make such a difference to that child’s life, to have someone who is there just for them, who remembers and cares.”
The project is managed by the charity Action for Children and funded through Norfolk County Council. It has been running since 1996 and provides volunteers with training and support. Volunteers are asked to give up at least one day a month, usually at a weekend, and the organisation asks for a minimum commitment period of two years.
“It can take a while for these children to learn to trust, as often they have been let down so often in the past and often have troubled backgrounds with a lot of difficult emotional issues to deal with. Life in care can be unstable but they always have their volunteer throughout all the other changes in their life. Often it can create shared memories and a history of their childhood that they do not have anywhere else.”
For more information, call 01362 697537 or see www.actionforchildren.org.uk
No pressure, just fun
Jo has been an independent volunteer for just over a year since being matched with J.
“Whether it be a game of badminton followed by a bag of fish and chips, a trip to the cinema or just a wander round the shops, we have a silent, unspoken understanding – our monthly visits are just about having fun. As a teenage boy of few words, I guess it’s nice for him because I’m one of the only people who neither asks nor demands anything of him. When everyone else is there because it’s ‘their job’ to be, I’m there because I choose to be. He probably won’t know how much I get out of being just a small part of his life, or how it’s a highlight of my month to plan and take him out for the day – but I hope in some small way I make a difference.”